Not that this is necessarily news to fans who have followed the band through their brief life, but Best Coast occupies a precarious place in music in 2012. And in and of itself, that’s nothing new: in a industry predominated by indie fans and hipsters, bands are chosen as hype darlings for the sake of trends as often as, if not more so, out of actual musical quality. Quite often in fact, these acts don’t necessarily have any grand idea to guide them in building a sound worthy of longevity. Rather, due to what can essentially be boiled down to the finicky nature of indie buzz, many groups arrive with the best material they’ll ever offer. In contrast to many of history’s greatest bands, which tend to gestate in an artistic womb across their beginnings, evolving into supreme artists, kids these days often simply either have the good fortune (or the smarts to do so intentionally) to arrive just at the right moment.
Best Coast plunged into the scene in 2010, and along with acts such as Surfer Blood, Beach Fossils and Real Estate helped set a trend of beach resurgence. Like any trend created and specialized as a hipster’s delight, it was immediately known it couldn’t last. Music evolving at its own rate is one thing, music forever limited as a memory is another altogether. Yet, from the start it seemed as though Best Coast simply had something more. Perhaps it was singer-songwriter Bethany Cosentino’s presence and voice, or perhaps her hopeful, confused persona was simply too earnest to dismiss. Whatever it was, while other acts from the same trend are fading from relevance or changing up their game, Best Coast is returning with pretty much the same style and still receiving all the love they could ask for from the Pitchfork-esque end of the hype machine. If you ask this writer, it’s due to the band’s intentions. Best Coast clearly takes energy from playing, from being a part of the music experience, rather than using it simply for their own ends out of some dull pretentious pretense – in fact, their own ends simply seem to be being appreciated, and vice versa.
So, when the band announced they were working with Jon Brion on their sophomore LP, many were curious. The band had thus far– despite some calling it a gimmick– more or less hinged on what amounted to a lo-fi presentation. Many considered hooking up with a skilled, powerful producer to be a step towards growth. Now that the album has finally arrived, to an extent, the opposite turned out to be true. Whether you call it a gimmick or not, Best Coast’s greatest strength came from its simplistic presentation. As a band, they rely heavily on basic instrumentation, inoffensive melodies and Cosentino’s direct, instantly relatable tales of longing and jaded fun. Hence, if you take away the distant feeling of a recording session that took place at some indiscriminate spot in California, what exactly is left to set the band apart?
This isn’t to take away from Best Coast’s strengths, but despite the irony of saying music that ultimately amounts to pop isn’t meant for complete streamlining– well, it isn’t. In all truthfulness, the cleaner production simply takes away from the Best Coast vibe. I’ve seen the band perform twice, both times setting the audience ablaze with fun sing-alongs. At their Lollapalooza show, it truly downpoured, flooding the crowd, who only more feverishly danced, receiving genuine thanks from a moved Cosentino.
It’s just this sort of feeling that the band’s prior work successfully exemplified, a band as much in touch with the world it creates as their own. But that feeling is mostly gone from this record, and that’s a sad thing. Sometimes the cleaner production clicks: the muddy feeling Brion brings to the guitar on “Last Year” works perfectly, and the anthem of a title track are undeniably Best Coast at its best. But the overall result is still this: rather than an album you could expect to be performed by a young, charismatic band on some beach in LA, you get an album much like any nice, tidy pop album you’ll hear this year.
That doesn’t make the album a major disappointment– it’s far from it. Cosentino clearly still yearns to connect with her listeners, as displayed in her genuine closing lament, “Up All Night.” In fact, with repeated listens, even the least of the songs still reach for that relaxing, carefree Best Coast vibe, but the feeling takes more work to achieve compared to the immediately lovable, attention-demanding nature of their entirely natural, easy-as-pie debut. Which is strange; Best Coast clearly put far more strain and effort into this sequel. Maybe they’re simply better when they aren’t working so hard.